During a trip to India, Gerri Lushey was bowled over by the profusion of exquisite textiles and craftsmanship. “Then and there I decided to start a resort wear label,” recalls the Western Australian designer.
The upshot was Ivy & Isabel, launched in 2009 and based in coastal North Fremantle. At the heritage building that houses the label’s flagship store, the decor is in perfect harmony with the fresh, appealing clothes on display.
Gerri’s love affair with fashion began early. “I was about 14 when I designed and made my first dress, and continued to make many of my clothes including jackets,” she says.
“I had this dream of working in a Paris fashion house, but my dad put his foot down. ‘You need to do something practical,’ he insisted, so I went to business college and became an executive secretary.”
Marriage and two daughters followed, then she found herself involved in the family’s wetsuit company in Fremantle. So much potential for improvement and expansion, mused Gerri. A fashion course at a Tafe college gave her the skills she needed and she rapidly acquired more.
“I designed surfwear and associated products, did the pattern-making and cutting, learned to use eight different sewing machines, organized staff and eventually took the brand offshore,” says Gerri.
The revitalized company’s success gave her the confidence to create Ivy & Isabel. Nearly a decade on, the label continues to thrive and evolve.
“I started Ivy & Isabel at home with showings in my lounge room, then graduated to an office before opening the store,” says Gerri.
“At one stage my range was much bigger, but I’ve streamlined it and simplified things for a couple of reasons. One, the bigger you get, the greater the risk of failure. And two, versatile, easy-wearing, easy care pieces appeal to all ages.
“That’s important in today’s market because while we have an ageing population, the generation gap has closed a lot in terms of fashion. These days, age differences are often reflected in styling. Young girls can team my shirts with say, cut-off shorts, while older women can wear them with a smart pair of jeans or pants.”
Shirts, dresses, skirts and tops – “a little boho and colours that remind me of the beach” – will feature in the Ivy & Isabel Summer 2019 collection presented at the February 9-10 Fashion Exposed Now fair in Sydney.
As usual, natural fibres will dominate, with the emphasis on cottons, including fine voiles, while a dressier section will be in silk satin.
“I source my cottons in India and manufacture there as well as in Indonesia which provides me with rayons and linens,” says Gerri.
When it came to naming her resort wear label, she decided to keep it in the family.
“I immediately thought of my maternal grandmother, Ivy Jackson, who brought up her three daughters in Bamboo Creek, Marble Bar (in the Pilbara, WA).” says Gerri Lushey.
“It’s the second hottest place in Australia, but Ivy found beauty in that harsh, isolated environment and expressed her creativity through sewing, photography and painting. She also played the piano and taught her children at home through correspondence.
“She was an incredibly talented, strong woman. So, I’m sure, was her mother Isabel.”
– Zelda Cawthorne